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Brussels Brief  | 34th Edition

1-7 December 2017

It’s the 34th Edition of Brussels Brief* and we are back with a tale of woeful diplomacy, a new superstar 'president' for the EU and kebabs.

Irreconcilable differences is an expression used in the context of divorces. This week we saw the most irreconcilable of differences in the Brexit saga: that of the Northern Ireland border. At one point, not too long ago, that border was the source of bloodshed resulting from the toxic mix of religious tensions and hardened nationalism. Today, as both sides of the Brexit negotiation try to save the Good Friday agreement that brought peace to the region, there is a reckoning that needs to be acknowledged. That peace was only achieved under the auspices of the EU and it seemed the UK government, for at least a few hours, was willing to concede that. Nonetheless, the tensions and mistrust of the past brought the current kingmakers of the UK government, to a dangerous position of power. one that could have far-reaching consequences for the nature of Britain’s exit from the EU and threaten the security guaranteed by the latter for the former.
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The Brussels Brief Team 👨‍👩‍👦 ✌️ 🇪🇺
*Collated and Curated over ‘Bon Entendeur, "le Culot", Coluche, Autumn 2017’ on Soundcloud and a cup of hot something ☕ in Brussels Brief HQ.

Irish Prime Minister and fitness fashionista-in-chief on the breakdown of Brexit talks on Northern Ireland.

🔝 FRONT PAGE - Top News This Week

‘Cristiano Ronaldo’ of the Eurozone. That is what the future President of the Eurogroup of 19 finance ministers of the Eurozone is being dubbed as. Portuguese Finance minister Mario Centeno replaced the incumbent president, the Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem in two rounds of voting beating out Luxembourg, Slovakia, and Latvia for the job. The election of Centeno, who will be holding the post for a total of 2.5 years, marks, therefore, a shift of the powerful group towards the south. This is all the more palpable considering Portugal was one of the countries that were forced into a bailout during the economic crisis. In an even weirder turn, a man that was once compared to Eurogroup enfant terrible Yanis Varoufakis and is now a member of a freakishly successful left-wing government will now be at the helm of the establishment in Europe. It marks a shift in Portugal’s fortunes as the country as they come out of the economic crisis with ascendance and many of its diplomats areappointed into prestigious posts worldwide. Yet whether he will the suitable ‘mediator’to guide the Eurozone through the next years is a matter of debate as he will see major reforms being pushed forward by the Juncker Commission, starting as from right about now. [Bloomberg, EUobserver, Politico Europe, El Pais, Eurotopics]

‘Oil on fire’. The EU was in the mood for diplomacy this week. Not only was the Brexit saga unfolding in spectacular fashion but they had enough time to entertain the delegate of another ‘populist anglosaxon’ administration. US Secretary of State and former Exxon Mobil boss, Rex Tillerson, came to Brussels this week as a proverbial ‘dead man walking’ as reports put him as the next in Donald Trump’s (long) firing line. Nonetheless, the intentions behind the visit seem to be benevolent in affirming an ‘ironclad’ commitment to NATO and strong support to the EU, whatever that means. Meanwhile, the EU’s Federica Mogherini received MR Tillerson with unequivocal messages for Mr. Trump such as a warning not to renege on the Iran nuclear deal and against the potential (now realised) of the US president’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. These were echoed by defence ministers from all over the EU who were less diplomatic in their warnings, especially in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [The Hill, Voice of America, Bloomberg, Washington Post]
EU-turn on shawarma. The EU can go after anything and everything, the myths havegone far and wide but if they come after our kebabs it will be a deal breaker. It turns out that the phosphates that keep the kebab meat juicy (despite being on the spit for hours) is at the centre of European Parliament scrutiny after a Commission proposal to make such substances subject to regulatory clearance. The initiative comes from a2012 inconclusive study linking the chemicals to heart disease. It will now be subject to a vote in the plenary session next week and has caused a controversy involving everyone from kebab shop owners, MEPs and (we imagine) drunk late night revelers. [Brussels Brief, The Guardian, Times of Israel]

💸 ITS THE ECONOMY, STUPID - Top Economic, Trade and Innovation News

Paradise lost. Following the Paradise papers scandal which showed how multinational corporations and wealthy individuals have been hiding fortunes in small jurisdictions around the world, the EU and the Commissioner for financial and tax affairs Pierre Moscovici especially, have been eager to show progress on combating tax avoidance. The EU’s new blacklist of 17 tax havens showcases the art of political compromise rather than an objective standard, and with no EU members included. The UK argued for a limited list as many UK territories have benefitted from hosting shell corporations and accounts of wealthy individuals, contrasted with France which has been taking a hardline on the issue. But an additional 47 territories, on a so-called grey list, are under extra scrutiny and have to deliver on commitments to improve cooperation and transparency. In times of public demand for fairness, lacking tax revenues, high youth unemployment, and concurrent sky-high corporate profits, this is a first good step on a long road to regain paradise. [The Guardian, Sky News, Euractiv]

An Irish pot of gold. Critics have rightly argued that the EU did not apply the new tax haven blacklist criteria to its own members, but that doesn’t mean the usual suspects should breathe easily. The first steps of house cleaning might be in the making as Apple is now set to pay back Ireland €13 billion after Commissioner Vestager had outed Ireland for illegal tax practices. Ironically, the Irish government has beenreluctant to accept the generous amount of money showing just how hard it might be to root out global tax avoidance if governments cannot even accept corporate taxes. [Reuters, NBC News]

🇬🇧 STATE OF THE (DIS)UNION - Brexit Stories

DUPed. The 8 June elections caused May to lose her parliamentary majority, essentially obliging her to strike a deal with the DUP, Northern Ireland’s Unionist party par excellence. Fast-forward almost 6 months, and the party that saved her Premiership is the one that ‘may’ oust her from power and scupper the Brexit process itself. Last week we mentioned that Brexit was all about the Irish border, and it seems that the UK government took our advice to heart ahead of the EU-imposed deadlineon Tuesday. Reports upon Theresa May’s arrival in Brussels announced that not only would there be a soft border, but that ‘continued regulatory alignment’ would exist between Ireland and NI. Cue leaders of Scotland, Wales, and even the Mayor of London coming out in favour of a differentiated solution for their region, i.e. the de facto remaining within the single market and customs union that was appearing to be the case for NI. Enter the DUP, who during lunch came out like a band of brothers/sisters declaring with certainty that there would not be any ‘regulatory divergence’ between NI and the UK leaving the EU. Mrs. May’s extraordinary lunch thus ended with an exasperated 3-minute press conference She now has until Friday to get her house organised in order to save her premiership and the whole Brexit process from collapsing. Cue Ed Miliband[Reuters, New York Times, Evening Standard, Politico Europe, Eurotopics]

Welfare Turkey. No matter what happens, a week in Brexit would not be complete with Nigel Farage being the protagonist of what seems an absurdist pantomime. The topic was the hefty pension that he is due to receive from the EU for his ‘work’ as an MEP and the platform was the BBC’s, Andrew Marr Show. He was asked whether he would accept the pension, of approximately 73,000 pounds (or 82,792.50 euro), that he is entitled to receive as from the age of 63. In an unsurprising show of remorseless hypocrisy (see previous incidences), the 53-year-old replied, “of course I would take it” claiming that he is the “turkey that voted for Christmas”. It looks like he likes his turkey with some serious gravy. [ITV News, Politico Europe]


- The amount of money that Theresa May promised the DUP to form a majority in the British Parliament after the general election of 8 June.

🏢 BRUXELLES MA BELLE - News about the city

Sedition, extradition, and protest. As Spain continues its chase to have former Catalan President Puigdemont and former four ministers arrested for rebellion, the 5 Catalan officials arrived in Brussels for an extradition hearing scheduled on Monday. A closed-door session will take place with a judge getting brief (or convinced?) from both sides of the argument. The judge will announce his decision on whether or not to grant a European arrest warrant for the former Catalan President on 14 December, a decision that is likely to affect the scheduled regional elections on 21 December. In a show of support, 20,000 Catalan and Catalan-supporters were scheduled to rally near the EU headquarters today. [Expatica, The Bulletin]

Procrastinating ‘til Xmas. The holiday season is nearing and that means the motivation at work is exponentially dying out. As you count your days to your flight out of Belgium, consider a wine and dour tour at the Christmas markets, or Marches de Noel for all of you perfecting your French. Alternatively, to keep time from stalling until the holidays, catch a violin concert before the end of the year, the Schuman Christmas lights or the Be Film festival. has got a multitude of events scheduled from now until the New Year. If, however, you’re an early bird and you’ve been purchasing all the Christmas gifts you owe your loved ones since November, which means now you’re low on €€€, check out Arsene 50: the hub of discounts for musical events.

✂️ EXTRA - From The Cutting Room Floor

The young Turks. The role of Muslims in European societies has been a growing topic in political discourse in recent decades and if current projections are to be believed the debate will only continue. In some countries, the number of Muslims are expected to triple, albeit from a low European average of just 4.9% today. But demographics are hard to predict as the sudden shifts in recent years have shown. But in an aging continent where the median age is now 43 the fact that the average Muslim woman has one more child than other European women also helps explain the trend. In fact, this might just be what Europe needs as it will, in the future, have fewer young people in the workforce and more elderly in need of social services. [The Guardian, Rew Research Center, Quartz]

Tribal affiliations. The media wants you to believe that there are two sides to each story, and only two sides. This is no more obvious in the EU coverage which pits people as Pro and Anti EU in all ways. But that is as misleading as it is rigid. According to a new study by Chatham House, there are 6 tribes in European politics including types such as the Contented European, the Austerity rebel and the Frustrated pro-European. Each with a different outlook of what the EU is and should be, and how we relate to complex political problems in the 21st century. Check out which tribe your profile fits best with or maybe discover that your own personal views can’t be contained in just 6 categories. [Euronews]
Godfather of a generation. The Erasmus programme is one of the most popular initiatives the EU has launched having seen millions of Europeans going on cross-cultural exchanges. Sadly, the father of the programme, Manuel Marin passed awaythis week. Although most Europeans never knew who he was, his work had an enormous impact on an entire generation and a million new Europeans should be thankful. But let’s not forget that we still have Mama Erasmus with us and that women have done much of the hard labour for our generation. [Euractiv, Reuters, European Parliament]

💡 OPINION - Top minds muse on the European project

Not all that glitters is gold. As Trump’s tax plans increasingly take center-stage on the US’s national agenda, Europe comes sweeping in as a real-life example of what things could turn out to look like for Americans. Tax cuts are likely to induce considerable inflows of foreign capital, which will, of course, generate meaningful income, for foreigners that is. Paul Krugman claims that other than Ireland, the evident case studies are the Eastern European states that have attracted capital inflows from Western Europe. They have become attractive because of their low corporate tax rates but also because of their renown low wages. Without a doubt, this has helped GDP but the national income has lagged behind because the growth has enriched the foreign investors instead. [The New York Times]

Light years away. Europe seems to be taking very seriously its commitment to ensuring support and space (excuse the pun) for entrepreneurial space companies. In a two day conference hosted by Luxembourg - unsurprisingly given its recent investment in space initiatives - European start-ups in the realm of space came to sell their ideas in return for some funding. The event had unpredicted success launching Luxembourg in the lead for space-related initiatives. In fact, the country partnered up with a San Francisco based startup, Spire, to develop a system of CubeSats that collect weather and ship-tracking data. Luxembourg will contribute to Spire’s latest funding round, currently estimated at US$ 75 million, and Spire will establish a European headquarters. [The Space Review]

Go Johnny go, go! One of France’s greatest legends in the history of its own music has died; Johnny Hallyday passed away at the age of 74 on Wednesday, 6 December. He won the French over, not as well as he did the politicians, who like Charles de Gaulle, claimed him to be a prodigy of American imperialism. In his lifetime, Johnny recorded 1,000 songs, sold over 100 million CDs (yes, back when CDs were actually a thing) and performed over 100 live tours. His greatest tragedy, says John Lichfield, is that the recognition he deserved but never fully received internationally would have been granted to him had he taken inspiration from Edith Piaf instead of rocking an imposter version of the iconic Elvis Presley. [The Guardian]

🎧 PRESS PLAY - Media Corner

🔊 Podcast of the Week. Blueprint for armageddon. Want to hear how one of the most destructive and transformative wars the world has ever seen was started. It was all down to the actions of one man, Gavrilo Princep and his ‘serendipitous’ assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Dan Carlin is here to take you through what happened next... [Hardcore History]

🎥 Video(s) of the Week. One minute she is single handedly derailing one of the most important decisions of the political year, another she is singing Mariah Carey for charity. The video of Arlene Foster, leader of the Northern Irish party in coalition with Theresa May, is proof that in a post-truth world of political opportunism and social media, not even Mariah is safe. []
✏️ Cartoon(s) of the Week. Brexit Tango, Brexit Divorce Bill, Monsanto’s Glysophate.

📺 GIF of the Week

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